Sunday, November 21, 2010

I Can't Say No

Or is it that I won't say no?

I've been a people-pleaser my whole life.  I like balance and harmony.  I dislike confrontation intensely.  If ever I find myself suffering the great misfortune of being in an argument with another person, I'm most definitely 'flight' rather than 'fight', but the problem with a personality like mine, is that quite often, words remain unspoken when they ought to be spoken.  Decisions that need to be made get pushed aside in favour of keeping the peace.  If there was one bite of a scrumptious dessert left on my plate, I would give it away.  I was always the girl running the note between a friend and a cute boy, or letting someone copy my homework, or organizing the party.

I used to think this part of me - this incessant need to please everybody - was a virtue to be cultivated.  I'll never be 'Alpha Girl' in the group, and I'm not particularly funny or sporty or musical or pretty, but I can be a good friend.  And then later, it became ...but I can be a good wife.  And then ...but I can be a good mother.  And because I knew no different, I treated these relationships in the same way I had with childhood friendships - I put on my people-pleaser hat and went on my merry way.

And people began to forget I was even there.

As a stay-at-home mother to three kids, one of them special needs, it wasn't hard to define my role.  Mother and wife, usually in that order.  I now understood the inside joke my mother and father had often shared - that Mum was the family secretary, the one who organized the appointments, keep the budget, made sure Person A went to Place B at Time C.  As an adult, whenever I would call home and my father would answer, he'd utter the obligatory ""  Hi sweetie, how are you? Yeah? What's the weather like? Here's your mother,"  and pass the phone like it was a hot metal rod perfectly capable of branding him with any conversation longer than about fifteen words.  I didn't hold it against him.  He would chuckle that anything I thereafter discussed with Mum - sometimes over five minutes, other times an hour - would be stripped of any superfluous detail, condensed, and the finer points presented to him in bullet form.  He was right, and they were.

I stepped right into the role my mother had prepared me for.  I became the secretary of my own little start-up 'company'.  I organized the school lunches, the parent-teacher interviews, the playdates, the birthday parties, the family menu, the household budget, the laundry.  I served myself last at the dinner table.

And I've been serving myself last ever since.

Had my mother lived beyond 55, I would have asked her about this.  Why didn't she look after her health when it mattered?  Hadn't she ever heard of the 'oxygen mask' approach (put your own mask on first and you'll be better equipped to help others)?

She did it to help us, of course, but in the meantime she was busy signing her own death certificate.  She was obese, smoked and did not exercise.  She was world-weary.  Exhausted.  Beaten by life.  And having a finalized divorce, her 55th birthday and a fatal heart attack all in one month.

I won't be her.  I refuse to.  More "no".  Less "Of course I can".

It's time to get selfish.

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